Monday, August 9, 2010

Day 2: Genocide and Torture

Everyone who goes to Phnom Penh recommends going to the killing fields. However, they were recently privatized by a Japanese company meaning that the profits of your admission are expatriated and aren't helping the local populace. I decided to skip the killing fields and instead head to the infamous S-21 prison where 17,000 people were tortured and murdered instead. S-21 was left exactly as it was found, with implements of torture, chains, tiny cells and converted into the Tuol Sleng Museum. Like the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge regime was meticulous about documenting their prisoners, each were numbered and photographed upon admittance.  There were also extensive photos taken from after torture sessions. These have all been preserved and put on display in the museum, as well as some information given about the leaders and people who ran the prison and the Khmer Rouge--and their subsequent trials (or lack there of).

It was one of the most horrifying experiences of my life. The fact that the prison was converted from a high school just made it seem even more perverse. The equipment for working out and gymnastics on the grounds was all converted to torture instruments. I was shaking during most of the visit, with goose bumps on my arms despite the 90 degree weather. 
These were the regulations of the prison. They have been reprinted and translated into Khmer, French, and English for the visitors.
This was the primary rule for visitors. Not very difficult to follow.
The size of an individual cell.
I believe these larger cells were for holding larger groups of prisoners and also torture sessions though with the absence of my journal my memory is not as precise as it could be.
An after photo.

After the museum, I got lunch and then hopped a 5 hour bus to the southern coast to visit Koh Kong. It was hard to talk about, to express how I felt about the museum. During my research on the Rwandan genocide my senior year, I often felt the same way, that verbalizing such atrocities was a strangely daunting task. It's hard to reconcile the fact that I am the same species as the people who committed these crimes and yet I am. Despite intensive research it is still so hard to get at the why.  Sometimes I'm not sure if it's possible to understand.

I promise more tomorrow--and far less depressing material.